Column: Newport council should follow radio host into battle against gasoline tax spike

San Diego radio host Carl DeMaio, right, pictured with Rich Crompton, San Diego County’s Public Works Department director, is leading a movement to repeal the new California state gasoline tax.
(Photo by Elizabeth Marie Himchak)

A few weeks ago I wrote about how the majority of Newport Beach’s City Council voted not to accept the new state gas tax revenue as a misguided protest against it. They later rescinded that decision after public outcry that they were throwing away money.

I suggested a smarter approach would be to join the movement to repeal the tax led by San Diego radio host Carl DeMaio.

I soon heard from readers who had no idea who DeMaio is. He’s a guy who should be on your radar.

To give you some background, DeMaio grew up in Orange County, is a graduate of Georgetown University, and moved to San Diego in 2002. He started his first company, the Performance Institute, which provides training and consulting solutions to financially-troubled government entities, at 23.

Crusading to reform government by improving transparency and fiscal accountability won DeMaio a seat on the San Diego City Council in 2008. He was instrumental in turning that city around from the brink of bankruptcy with his “roadmap to recovery reform agenda.”

And though his bids for mayor in 2012 and Congress in 2014 were unsuccessful and riddled with controversy, DeMaio remained committed to state-wide fiscal reform.

He’s chairman of Reform California, which is not only working to repeal the gas tax, but is pushing for public employee pension reform as well.

DeMaio’s message has garnered him a large audience for the daily news and talk show he co-hosts on KOGO-AM 600 in San Diego.

Did I mention he’s a gay, married Republican? He is all about shaking things up.

Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) calls him a “warrior.”

I talked with DeMaio this week while he was in Washington, D.C. He said he is taking a two-punch approach of repealing the gas tax and mounting an effort to recall Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton).

Newman, from a historically Republican district, was a deciding vote in passing the $5.2 billion gas tax — making California gas taxes the most expensive in the country. A recall website is collecting signatures — 100,000 so far according to Moorlach.

“And the data shows that all segments of Josh’s district oppose the gas tax,” says Moorlach. “Male/female. Black, Hispanic, white. Democrats and Republicans.”

Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) is also working on a gas tax repeal initiative and is waging a battle in the courts.

“It gave him enough name ID that it encouraged him to also run for governor,” Moorlach says. “Carl’s team will probably leapfrog Allen’s efforts and be very successful.”

Moorlach has long been critical of Caltrans spending.

In 2014 when the state Legislative Analyst’s Office determined that Caltrans had 3,500 too many architects and engineers at a cost of $500 million per year, Moorlach called for nixing extra staff and putting these dollars toward our roads.

Of course that didn’t happen.

“Over the past 14 years, while gas taxes were rising, transportation spending has remained virtually flat,” Moorlach wrote in the Orange County Business Journal in 2016. “This means that the state has redirected transportation tax revenues.” .

DeMaio told me only 20 cents of every dollar actually makes it to our roads, while the rest is diverted to who knows where.

“I think any government agency needs to be careful of spending money that’s not theirs,” he says.

DeMaio and group have been working with legal experts to come up with a state constitutional amendment. The objective is to not only roll back the vehicle and gas tax hikes, but eliminate future politicians’ ability to raise taxes without a vote of the people.

DeMaio says eliminating these new gas taxes could save Californians an estimated $300 annually.

The initiative measure to be submitted to voters was filed with the State Attorney General’s office Sept. 14.

The reasons behind the action are included in the Statement of Findings:

“California’s taxes on gasoline and car ownership are among the highest in the nation. (b) These taxes have been raised without the consent of the people. (c) Therefore, the people hereby amend the Constitution to require voter approval of increases in the gas and car tax.”

DeMaio needs to collect 585,407 signatures for the measure to be on the November 2018 ballot. Reform California has already received pledges from over 200,000 voters who want to sign the petition once the forms are issued by the state — DeMaio is encouraging more voters to sign up at I did.

Like many, I’m not happy with the increase and the fact that legislators in Sacramento think voters are an endless ATM. Californians pay the highest tax rate in the country, have the highest rate of poverty, and our roads aren’t great either. Something is terribly wrong here.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at